The Management Recipe

In the field of management, the following traits are characteristic of a good manager: 

1. They can motivate their team with the power of the team or company’s vision, 

2. They can deliver their ideas and the vision with a passion, and 

3. They can persuade team members with the compelling logic of their reasoning. 

Add in the proper incentives, and people will enthusiastically march off in the right direction.

It’s a great image, but something is seriously wrong with it: Such a strategy works with only a fraction of employees, and a smaller fraction of managers. Why? For one thing, few executives are particularly gifted at rallying the troops. Another reason is that evidence suggests that external incentives—be they inspirational messages, large financial incentives, or even the threat of unpleasant consequences—have limited impact (Harvard Business Review: “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work”, A. Kohn). 

For most managers the 80–20 rule should sound familiar: The most intractable employees take up a disproportionate amount of one’s time and energy. So how do you get these people to follow your lead? How do you get them energized and committed in such a way that they not only support your initiatives but carry them out?

After working with teams and organisations for more than 14 years, Aspire has come to the conclusion that these are precisely the wrong questions to ask. That’s because, as it turns out, you can’t motivate these problem people; they can only motivate themselves. 

The job of the manager in this equation is to create the circumstances in which the inherent motivation, the natural commitment and drive that most people have, is freed and channeled toward achievable goals. This approach, however, requires an entirely different managerial mind-set. 

The challenge managers have to face is that achieving this shift in perspective is anything but easy. But, as a manager, it remains your best hope for getting the most out of the members of your team. Most managers think that if they can only get the team member to listen, the logic of their position will become obvious. This approach is known as “tell and sell” and is based on a profound fallacy many people buy into: “Other people have the same thought processes I do, and, consequently, they have to accept the good sense of what I’m saying.”

The reality, however, is that each individual has a unique profile of motivational drivers, values, and biases, and each of us have different ideas about what is reasonable.

Managers that rely on the “tell and sell” method are probably familiar with the “Sure, boss” meetings. These are meetings with team members that end with an apparent resolution but ultimately result in more of the same old problem and the person not changing one bit.

Such unsatisfactory outcomes shouldn’t surprise managers. In trying to convert team members into different kinds of people, managers have set themselves an impossible goal. A fundamental rule of management is that a manager can’t change people’s character; a manager can’t even control the actions of team members most of the time. Change comes from within or not at all.

So what is the right approach to motivating those one manages? By shifting the responsibility for motivation from subject to object, from manager to subordinate. But, as we said earlier, it requires a shift in perspective. Firstly, the manager needs to look at the employee not as a problem to be solved, but as a person to be understood. Secondly, the manager needs to understand how they can create an environment within a team that will facilitate the flourishing of team members. Lastly, the manager should understand potential organisational factors that could potentially impact the motivation of team members.

In this course we will look at the individual perspective, team perspective and organisational perspective within a company, and the different factors that managers need to be aware of that contribute to the motivation of employees at each of these levels.

Please download the Team Motivation Worksheet included in this module. This worksheet will help you to develop your own action plan for your team as we move through the different modules in this course.

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